Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Foreign Funds May Have Been Funneled to Faleomavaega

One of the more curious aspects of Faleomavaega's career has been his devotion to issues
involving Kazahkstan, a central Asian country he has visited numerous times.  Central Asian
countries have never been under the legislative jurisdiction of the Asia-Pacific subcomittee on
which he serves and which he chaired from 2007 to this January.  The mutual love relationship
has been so great that the Kazakh government once even took out an advertisement in the
Washington Post to sing Faleomavaega's praises.  Now it may be coming more clear.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) is a thirty-year-old nonpartisan, independent, watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO, which, according to its mission statement, investigates "corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government," has turned its attention to Kazahkstan's cozy relations with members of Congress.

The POGO investigation has uncovered circumstantial evidence that strongly supports some claims that the Kazakh Embassy has used lobbyists to create two separate caucuses dedicated to supporting its interests: the Friends of Kazakhstan caucus and the Caucus on Central Asia.  Employees from the lobbying firms hired to create the most recent caucus—the Caucus on Central Asia—have donated thousands of dollars to every member that has served in a leadership capacity of that caucus.

According to POGO: "One Member of Congress, Delegate Eni Faleomavaega from American Samoa, a co-chair and driving force behind the creation of the Central Asia caucus, particularly stands out. In the 2010 election cycle, two of Faleomavaega’s top organizational contributors had been under contract with the Republic of Kazakhstan: Employees and family members from Policy Impact Communications, the lobbying firm hired to create the Central Asia caucus, contributed $4,800, making the firm Faleomavaega’s second largest organizational contributor; and another firm, Steptoe and Johnson, which is the Republic of Kazakhstan’s outside counsel, contributed $2,000 through its Political Action Committee."

Faleomavaega long has been the subject of criticism by his opponents for relying on big contributors with Asian names living in California and labor unions with no activities in American Samoa for the lion's share of his campaign budgets.   A few maximum contributions from these special interests will buy a lot of  election day plate lunches for voters.  He always seems to be able to tap these same sources time and again for all the money he needs to ward off stiff challenges.   His supporters insist donors with Asian names are legal contributors interested in his work on the Foreign Affairs Committee, with some having interest on his position on tuna boats built in Taiwan whose owners want access to the South Pacific through American Samoa.  He switched his position recently to oppose the legislative change necessary to clear the way for the boats so it will be interesting to see what contributors drop off his list this next campaign.

Meanwhile, there is no telling where the POGO investigation is going.  The full details of the scandal can be read here: http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2011/06/kazakhstan-family-feud-engtagles-members-of-congress.html.   One thing is almost certain: don't hold your breath waiting for Samoa News, where Faleomavaega's sister-in-law is an editor, to report on this issue.  Expect this to be swept under the rug the way they have minimized almost every controversy involving Faleomavaega over the years.

Weiner Resignation Could Thwart Faleomavaega Ambitions

As unimaginable as it may sound, the resignation of disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY), may have thwarted Faleomavaega's ambitions to rise to the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a prospect that undoubtedly sends chills up the spine of House Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi and other senior leaders in her party.

All the stars would have had to line up right next year for it to happen but it is quite possible that Democrats could retake the House while Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA), the full committee chairman, and Gary Ackerman (D-NY), the second ranking Democrat on the committee, were losing re-election battles.  That scenario would put third ranking Faleomavaega in line to become chairman.

As unlikely as it would seem for Berman and Ackerman to be be in trouble in their safe seats, they will be running in newly configured districts, thanks to redistricting resulting out of the 2010 census.   If Democrats were to catch a wave, normally the two veterans would be among the least likely to be in trouble.  However, a new non-partisan redistricting commission has thrown Berman into the same district with another senior Democrat, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA).  There is said to be no love lost between the two men and, if they should decide to square off against each other, there is no certainty in the outcome.

Meanwhile, in New York, the state legislature must redraw the district lines in a way to adjust for the loss of two seats as a result of decennial reapportionment.  There has been a gentleman's agreement that one seat would be eliminated in the Republican leaning upstate area and the second seat would be taken from the New York City area, where Ackerman's constituency is.

Now that Weiner has resigned, it makes the job easier for the legislature, which simply can eliminate his seat and make all the other incumbents, including Ackerman, safe for re-election.  So, if Berman were to lose next year, the Democrats still should have Ackerman in place to block Faleomavaega's rise.  Of course, Democrats still would have to win back the majority and it is much to early to tell if that could happen.

But more than likely, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.  American foreign policy should be safe for another two years.  Nonetheless, all three men are getting up there in years (Berman is 70; Ackerman is 68; and Faleomavaega is 67) and Faleomavaega has been in poor health for a number of years.  The retirement of death of any of them would change the equation.  Stay tuned.